Jul. 25, 2014
Ice Cream Truck
From blocks away we heard the mechanical
music the ice cream truck chimed all over
the neighborhood, calling to kids like the Pied
Piper as we darted into our houses begging
our parents for change to buy Nutty Buddies
and banana popsicles, orange pushups
and ice cream sandwiches. Once the truck
stopped on our street, we swooped like seagulls
around the open window so the ice cream man
could take our money and hand out whatever
treats we asked for, which were always better
than we remembered from the last time his boxy,
hand-painted truck rolled around—the cold,
creamy confections freezing our tongues and
sliding down our parched throats as fast as we
could eat them—the taste of summer lingering
just long enough to make us wish for more.
It was on this day in 1897 that Jack London (books by this author) set off for the Klondike Gold Rush. Gold was discovered a year earlier, in August of 1896, on the Klondike River, near Dawson City in the Yukon. But the news took awhile to reach the United States. In July of 1897, a boat from the Yukon arrived in Seattle, and the passengers had bags of gold. Immediately, newspapers were covered in the headline "GOLD!" and soon 100,000 men dropped everything to head north.
One of them was Jack London. For years he had tried to piece jobs together, working as a fisherman and in a cannery. He was unemployed for a while, in jail briefly, and then got the equivalent of a high school diploma and tried college. But he dropped out when he heard about the gold rush, and at age 21, joined up with his brother-in-law to go to the Yukon. He developed scurvy and severe muscle pain, and didn't make any money. But he was inspired by the adventurous lifestyle.
His landlords in Dawson City were mining engineers who had been educated at Yale and Stanford, and despite his enchantment with the prospecting life, London also realized how powerful education was. So he decided to be a writer, knowing it was something that he was good at and that could raise his station in life. Through the long winter up in the Yukon, the other miners loved to come listen to him tell stories.
His scurvy got so bad that a doctor told him he needed to go back home and get medical attention, so in June of 1898 he sailed for California. When he got home, he threw himself into writing, and his first short story was accepted in December of 1898. Set in the dead of the Yukon winter, it was called "To the Man on Trail," the story of a man named Westondale who holds up a saloon and then, using his sled dogs, tries to outrun the Mounted Police. He is helped out by Malemute Kid, one of London's recurring characters. London got paid just five dollars for the story, but it launched his career. He wrote more short stories set during the Yukon Gold Rush, including "The White Silence" (1899) and "In a Far Country" (1899). And he wrote a Klondike short story that expanded into his best-known novel, a story based on a real dog named Buck, which had belonged to his well-educated landlords in Dawson City. Buck became the main character of The Call of the Wild (1903), which made Jack London suddenly famous.
It was on this day 200 years ago in Northern England in 1814 that a man named George Stephenson made the first successful demonstration of the steam locomotive. His engine pulled eight loaded wagons weighing 30 tons uphill at about four miles an hour.
But though the locomotive was invented in England, it had its greatest impact on the United States, where there was so much wide-open space and so many natural resources to take advantage of. By 1840, the United States had 2,800 miles of railroad track. By 1872 that number had increased to 52,000 miles of railroad track.
Walt Whitman called the locomotive "Emblem of motion and / power — pulse of the continent." But some people weren't too happy about the introduction of the locomotive and the faster pace of life it brought. Henry David Thoreau wrote: "This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! I am awaked almost every night by the panting of the locomotive. It interrupts my dreams. There is no Sabbath. It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once. It is nothing but work, work, work."
It was on this day in 1788 that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart entered into his catalog the completion of one of his most beloved works, Symphony Number 40 in G Minor (sometimes called "The Great G Minor Symphony"). It was written in the final years of Mozart's life, when things were not going well. An infant daughter had died a few weeks earlier, he had moved into a cheaper apartment, and he was begging friends and acquaintances for loans. But in the summer of 1788, he wrote his last three symphonies: Symphony Number 39 in E-Flat, Symphony in G Minor, and the Jupiter symphony. It is not known for sure whether Mozart ever heard any of these symphonies performed.
It's the birthday of saxophonist Johnny Hodges, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1906. He took up the soprano sax when he was 14, and later specialized on the alto. Hodges joined Duke Ellington's orchestra in 1928, and he was a soloist and mainstay of the ensemble until his death in 1970. Among his best-known solos are those on "Warm Valley" and "Passion Flower." His nickname, "Rabbit," came from his love of lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches. As he grew older, Hodges used fewer and fewer notes in his solos, preferring to stay closer to the melody.
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